Building peaceful systems

“Realise deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life.” 

Eckhart Tolle

Do you remember when you were younger, getting excited ahead of a big event and adults telling you: ‘don’t wish your life away!’? We tend to live both in the past and in the future – one moment we’re reminiscing or regretting and the next we’re planning or worrying. In the meantime, we neglect the one moment that is always fully available to us: the present, that vibrant space where we can really be, feel and live. We can always give ourselves the gift of now and the depth of presence every time we breathe into something different or more profound and take the time to notice.

Starting from now

We’re all familiar with the ‘I’ll do it later’ approach. Indeed, it is one of our most frequent responses when we are busy and listening simply to reply whilst thinking about the next task on our to-do list. We all want to do more with less and find a way to work ‘smarter’ and squeeze more busyness and deliverables into our days, but we are asking ourselves the wrong questions.

As the famous quote goes: ‘to be or not to be, that is the question’. And it remains the key question for understanding this trap of busyness and stepping away from doing to think instead about being. We must consider what being means for our energy, our inner game and connecting to our true essence.

I often discuss this challenge with leaders I work with, and we find that a lot of the work on one’s inner game is about making friends with silence – not having to find words, solutions or even jokes to fill the void, but actually stepping into it and seeing what happens. In our ever-busy world, we need to intentionally carve out these moments of silence. Even with the exponential speed of technology and what it is able to achieve, herein lies the very essence of what ChatGPT is not able to transcribe – silence. The conversations sparked by ChatGPT and the rise of generative AI are becoming more and more frequent as we try and figure out what it means for the future of coaching. The conclusion I come to is that a lot of where the magic happens in coaching spaces is in the silence – the privilege of now, where thoughts are bubbling up silently and we feel so vibrantly alive and alert. This magic happens in the moments of silence as our brains calm down and our creative selves ramp up, when our inner wisdom comes out to play and gives us firework-like explosions of ideas. This cannot yet be transcribed into binary code, nor felt by a machine, yet this is where feelings can unfold and we can sit with emotions and have our best and most unexpected ideas.

Finding gifts

For me, there are gifts to be found everywhere. Not only is this part of the way I think as a relentless optimist, but also as a realist, if we look at the uniqueness of human beings. Discovering our ‘imperfections’ is often painful given that we inhabit a society and organisations that glorify and encourage perfection as a goal and measure of success. We start to hear this from a very young age, be it at home or at school, or both, and it often constitutes a foundational piece of our internal narrative systems. I frequently discuss this with leaders and groups when we use the Leadership Circle™ to delve more deeply into our triggers and internal narratives to date. How is my system built? What stories still serve me? Which no longer serve me? How can I step into what I like to call my ‘happy place’ (of inner and authentic motivation, a place of now)?

Many leaders discover their reactive tendencies and then stay there, trying to figure out how to be better. If only it were that easy! More commonly, we tend to stay where it feels familiar and safe. In fact it is more about how to reduce the reactive side of their leadership and step into a more creative space.

There are gifts to be found in every part of ourselves, but only when we are aligned with who we are meant to be, when we let things unfold and we take the time to step back from busyness and stress, do we start seeing the real gifts of alignment. Einstein tells us that ‘the intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant’. Education and businesses nowadays are disproportionately concerned with rationality, but ultimately we need both. We must stop and empty our minds of other noise, we must be present and feel emotions if we want to be able to access this gift of intuition.

Intuition can act as an inner compass – a place of genius – providing guidance and nudges in the right direction in alignment with our purpose. It provides a subtle yet powerful inner voice, that of an inner mentor, guiding us to make decisions beyond analysis and rational thinking. While logical reasoning and data-driven analysis have their place, particularly in today’s workplace where critical (systems) thinking is key, intuition brings an additional dimension to decision-making and leadership, considering aspects that may not be immediately apparent or quantifiable.

Hortense le Gentil talks about the gifts of alignment in our recent podcast (listen here). She urges us to think about how we can intentionally align with our inner selves and let things unfold, and how we can embrace failure to help us unlock and deal with complexity.

Our complex environments mean that we are constantly presented with the paradoxes of the workplace, of rational vs intuitive and reactive vs creative:

·     busyness vs fullness

·     misalignment vs alignment

·     stress vs ease

·     scarcity vs abundance

Navigating these paradoxes is key to creating peaceful systems, as polar opposites cannot exist in close proximity. If you place a candle in the darkness, the darkness disappears. If you put water on a fire, the fire is extinguished. I hear similar reactive narratives from leaders, such as ‘I’ll lose my drive if I give up my reactive behaviours’. It may sound and feel familiar but it may also be keeping you small.

No alt text provided for this image
Lilia Daffi : Human Systems Practitioner

This often only takes place in our heads and we do not engage the body or the heart. We are so conditioned not to ‘feel’ that we struggle to actually accept that our body knows what’s best for us and tries to send us subtle, or sometimes not-so-subtle, indications that things are not ok and that we are not in alignment with ourselves. Every time we do ‘breathing’ or ‘mindfulness’ as part of a work-related activity, it feels weird, or wrong, or we’re worried about feeling silly. Many great teachers have spoken about the importance of focusing on the body rather than the mind, and the power of breathwork and somatics. Your body knows what’s best for you and by listening intently you can get a clear sense of what’s important for you in life, but you need to be in stillness as opposed to busyness. How many times do we really feel into the present and let things unfold, let go of all the emotional armour we have built to date to house our egos and protect ourselves? My Dad’s favourite sentence was to point to his head and ask ‘where does it hurt?’ to stress the power of mind over matter, and this is so true. It is the most developed muscle in today’s systems – the cognitive intelligence of the rational mind, and how to control it. The ego’s power to keep us in self-centred bubbles is just one of many reasons why it is important to separate ourselves from our minds and pay closer attention to our bodies.

Creating peaceful momentum

So how do we create awareness, involvement and action to build momentum? How can we bring ‘being’ and ‘doing’ together as a normal part of the leadership paradigm? How can we scale the different and more subtle ways of ‘being’ needed to lead sustainable transformation in organisations?

To separate yourself from your mind, you must become fully conscious of it and the power it has over you, otherwise you will never understand the countless apparently small and subtle ways it influences your thinking, behaviour and therefore your happiness. We need more conscious leadership – conscious of self, conscious of others and conscious of the systems in which we think, act and interact. We must examine what we are creating for ourselves and others.

The different thought processes brought about by new innovation methodologies give us a framework to shape a space where there is no judgement, where we can be ourselves, where we can intentionally step back and curiously observe our rational minds to create a requisite gap in the flow of thinking. Stepping into our happy place, immersed in a cycle of purpose/passion/action as opposed to threat/fear/reaction, is a great place to start thinking about how to construct systems differently to build communities of care: people who care and systems that collaborate.

Living in the present can provide us with new resources and new ways to solve problems. It can also bring us new strength and determination, as we need not waste our inner resources on creating problems. In fact, by living in the present we see through a different lens of manageable situations we can solve together, one by one. This doesn’t mean there are no difficulties or challenges, but that energy and effort are channelled into creating effective solutions through more creatively resilient systems: nourishing systems, which are understanding, creative and positive, as opposed to sparse systems, which fill people with negative emotions like anger, fear and frustration.

Mindful communities have great power for change in the world as Mandar Apte explains in our recent podcast (listen here). For example, most violence is ‘curable’ if it is treated as a public health issue, and we should provide access to mental wellness solutions as early as possible in education systems, as having this knowledge and awareness is where peace begins. People emotionally armour themselves and wear masks, but violence and trauma exist everywhere, and we can never know what other people are going through. Leaders must invest their time in investigating and understanding this and how it relates to their people. Even if a group of people is united by a strong cause, like environmentalism for example, they will still only achieve their goals if their community is strongly connected on a human level, and has the right energy.

Being present is so important for creating momentum and understanding the depth of what is currently playing out in the system. When we observe change over time, the part of us that is not changing is observing change. When the system observes change over time, the part of the system that is not changing is also observing change and creating antibodies to protect itself, thus widening the gap. It is important for leaders to be present and compassionate and take quiet time for recalibration. And this intentional approach must be amplified in the system as ‘the way we do things around here’. Being open to intuition and the present moment can prepare capacity for the future. Your communities and teams will learn to listen both to each other and the organisation at large, thereby shifting the flow of information and consciousness to create healthier, more prosperous and more agile systems.

Thank you for reading.

If this resonates with you please share your thoughts in the comments, and subscribe for more thoughts on human systems. 

You can also find more subjects like this in my podcast, Let’s talk Transformation, available on Apple PodcastSpotify, and Google Podcast.

If you’re looking to build and lead agile ecosystems differently, check out our Human Systems Practitioner course :

Suzie Lewis

Discover fresh perspectives and research insights

Sign Up to receive our latest news and transformation insight direct to your inbox!

TransformForValue takes your privacy seriously. We may process your personal information for carefully considered, specific purposes which enable us to enhance our services and benefit our customers. Please note that by subscribing now you may from time to time receive other emails from about events or other activities that we think might interest you.